USDA Further Delays Critical Organic Welfare Rule, Betraying Organic Farmers, Consumers, and Animals
This is the third time the rules, which were developed through 17 years of stakeholder input and finalized under Obama, have been delayed from going into effect by the Trump Administration.
WASHINGTON, DC —Today, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which houses the National Organic Program (NOP), has announced that the effective date of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule will be delayed for a third time, pushing the effective date back six months to May 14, 2018.
“This outrageous action flies in the face of the nearly two decades of farmer and consumer input that contributed to the development of the new rule,” says Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic & Animal Policy. “The rule provides much needed clarity on the minimum standards for the care, treatment, and conditions of animals raised on organic farms so all certified producers are implementing consistent practices and so that the USDA Organic label meets consumer expectations.” A survey by Consumers Union this year demonstrated that 9 out of 10 respondents who regularly buy organic foods believe that it is very or extremely important that organic animals come from farms with high welfare practices.
Most importantly, the updated rule clarifies that organic chickens must have adequate access to appropriate outdoor space and provides minimum spacing requirements for the birds, both indoors and out. AMS has acknowledged previously that the vast majority of certified organic producers—small, medium, and several large operations—already comply with the updated rule. But, a few very large producers that converted conventional facilities to organic by providing organic feeds and eliminating non-therapeutic drugs have so far gotten away with overcrowding their birds and counting small, screened-in cement areas as “outdoor space.” This handful of large producers has lobbied aggressively against the new rule, which would require substantial changes to their operations in order to continue being certified organic.
“Today’s announcement privileges the will of the few over the many and blatantly ignores the intense, public collaboration that built the final rule,” says Harsh. “It is disappointing that this Administration consistently seeks to weaken the integrity of the U.S. organic industry, an industry that accounts for nearly $50 billion in sales. This is a huge blow to the majority of organic farmers that have always raised their animals to a high standard of care.”
Opposition to the rule does not hold up under scrutiny. Several producers have decried the requirement for providing outdoor space, saying that the birds will be at significant risk of contracting avian influenza if they go outside. A recent piece by a retired USDA scientist made this very argument. However, research has consistently demonstrated that chickens raised outdoors are at minimal risk of contracting the avian influenza strains of concern. In fact, access to sunlight and more space help prevent birds from contracting and transmitting avian influenza, which is more likely to mutate into highly pathogenic and dangerous strains in indoor, crowded conditions.
According to AMS, the vast majority of the 47,000 comments submitted on the previous delay of the rule demanded that the rule be implemented, and only one commenter supported another delay of the rule. This is in addition to the thousands of comments in years prior providing input on the content of the rule and supporting its development.